Malcolm Graham
All posts from Malcolm Graham
Malcolm Graham in Analytics & more!,

Use caution when investing in Ebola-related stocks

Ebola is a dreaded virus, and there is certainly an urgency to find a vaccine and a cure. However, investors need to be careful that they do not end up in tears from buying Ebola-related stocks without fully understanding the fundamentals.There is simply too much puffery in the mainstream media to lead unsuspecting investors astray.

The latest example is an article that appeared in the Daily Mail after the market close Wednesday hyping Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp TKMR, +5.11% with a tantalizing title “Merger mania in healthcare sector keeps dealers on toes during peak holiday weeks with Tekmira now high on takeover tonic.”The stock took off in the aftermarket as the message boards put their faith in the piece.

The article starts out comparing Tekmira with InterMune ITMN, +0.04% and based on this comparison, concludes that Tekmira is worth about $40, more than twice the price of Tekmira stock before the article appeared.

Comparing Tekmira to InterMune is like comparing a kid's tricycle to a Ferrari.

First take a look at the annotated chart of Tekmira.

Please click here to see the annotated chart of TKMR.

The Daily Mail article omits the bad news for Tekmira — that U.S. scientists will start a trial of Ebola vaccine from Glaxo GSK, +0.41% as early as next week. The news is bad for Tekmira, in that Tekmira does not have a vaccine, but a potential drug in very early stages of development. If a vaccine is successful, there will obviously be less need for an Ebola drug.

InterMune, whose stock is benefitting from a buyout offer from Roche, has already succeeded with a potentially block buster drug, Pirfenidone. The drug treats idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis that results from progressive scarring of lungs and can kill patients. The drug is already approved in Europe and Canada, and is generating sales of about $150 million. By 2019, the drug may generate sales of about $2 billion with very healthy gross margins. Moreover, there are significant synergies in this buyout that will allow Roche to significantly cut costs at InterMune.

More exciting is the game-changing potential of Pirfenidone to treat liver fibrosis which is a much bigger market. The drug may also be used for kidney fibrosis.

Tekmira had revenue of only $4.4 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014. Compare this to Tekmira's valuation of about half a billion dollars. Previously, the FDA had put a hold on TKM-Ebola Investigational New Drug Application. The drug is in a Phase I Clinical Study. It costs lots of money and takes years to go from Phase I to full commercialization, even on a fast track and even if the drug ever makes it that far. At this time TKM-Ebola is mostly hope with huge risks.

After the recent Ebola-related headlines, the FDA has changed its clinical hold on TKM-Ebola to a partial hold. This is indeed a good development but does not justify the stock valuation. The reason is that even if the drug is successful years from now, it may amount to only minuscule ongoing sales and a one-time large sale. History shows us that Ebola outbreaks tend to subside, and even at the peak, do not spread to more than a few thousand people.There is simply not a big enough ongoing market for an Ebola drug. The one-time sale may be due to government agencies stockpiling drugs. Such government stockpiling may be split among drugs from several vendors.The other companies presently working on Ebola drugs include BioCryst BCRX, -3.08% and MAPP Biopharmaceuticals.

The real money related to Ebola is likely to be in vaccines such as the ones being developed by NewLink Genetics NLNK, -5.56% and Glaxo.

Tekmira has promise in some other areas, but most of it is in very early stage.